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Published on: Oct. 23, 2020, 9:03 a.m.
Disappearing allies
  • Reddy: fuelling speculations

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

With the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, two of the oldest allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the National Democratic Alliance, pulling out and following the death of Ram Vilas Paswan, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader and Union minister, the ruling alliance is left with just one fringe player in what is becoming an all-saffron council of ministers. Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party of India, a bit player in Maharashtra politics, is the only member among BJP’s allies in the NDA government at the Centre, who has survived the vicissitudes of coalition politics. The Janata Dal (United) which has an alliance with the BJP in Bihar, has kept itself out of the government so far.

Even Athawale is only a minister of state (for social justice and empowerment) and not represented in the Union Cabinet. This has created an impression that the ruling dispensation isn’t really interested in practising coalition politics, as it can rule on its own. Currently, even Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) in Bihar is jittery over the prospects of reducing itself to a junior partner post-assembly poll in view of the BJP’s suspected equation with Chirag Paswan, son of the late LJP leader, who is acting as a spoiler for Nitish by fielding candidates against his party.

When the Modi 2.0 government returned to power in 2019 following Lok Sabha elections, Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena, Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party were the non-BJP faces of the NDA alliance in the Union Cabinet. Besides Modi, a total of 57 ministers – 24 Cabinet ministers, nine ministers of state (with Independent charge) and 24 ministers of state – had taken oath as members of the council of ministers on 30 May 2019.

While the Shiv Sena quit the NDA in late 2019, Shiromani Akali Dal left the alliance recently over the new farm legislations. Following the resignations of Sawant and Badal and the death of Paswan, there are 21 Cabinet ministers. With the recent death of minister of state for railways Suresh Angadi, the number of ministers of state has also come down to 23.

Gravitated to each other

According to the Constitution, the total number of Union ministers, including the Prime Minister, shall not exceed 15 per cent of the total number of members in the Lok Sabha. Modi can have as many as 80 ministers in the 543-member Lok Sabha. That leaves Modi with ample scope to expand his council of ministers. But will he?

It is in this context that Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s 40-minute meeting with Modi on 6 October has fuelled speculations over the prospects of Reddy’s Yuvajana Sramika Rytu Congress (YSRC), with 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha and six in the Rajya Sabha, joining the NDA. Modi and Reddy, with the overwhelming mandate they secured in the 2019 elections, are sitting pretty in Delhi and in Andhra Pradesh respectively, without any instability in their governments. Yet, the two leaders have seemingly gravitated to each other for a variety of reasons. The BJP is desperate to refurbish its image as a party that can attract allies. 

Jagan’s vulnerability is the persisting cases of amassing disproportionate wealth and the notoriety with which Modi dispensation uses the Central agencies for a political project. Obviously, he needs Centre’s co-operation to get a breather from cases and also fix his rival, Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party. He recently launched a diatribe against Supreme Court judge N.V. Ramana, next in line to become Chief Justice, alleging impropriety by the latter. A bench headed by the judge is hearing a petition seeking fast-tracking of pending criminal cases against sitting and former legislators, including Jagan.

Jagan continues to be more loyal to the NDA than its partners, supporting almost all the bills from outside. They include bills with adverse bearing on the Muslim minorities (which form his party’s core voter segment), such as the Citizenship Amendment Bill, abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir and criminalisation of triple talaq.

Besides, his party also backed the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020, regardless of the fact that it could have a debilitating impact on the promise of free power for agriculture made by his father, the late Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. Members of the YSR Congress, representing a state that is the largest producer of food grains next to Punjab and Haryana, even supported the farm bills, unmindful of their adverse implications over the procurement process.

Reddy’s party has six MPs in the Upper House and the numbers is expected to go up to 10 in the next two years. Thus, BJP needs Jagan as much as Jagan needs it. 

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